The Lookout

Court of public opinion looms large in George Zimmerman murder trial

View gallery

.

George Zimmerman listens to a jury consultant in court this week. Opening arguments in the murder trial will be …

On paper, Seminole County, Fla., criminal case No. 2012-001083-CFA is a second-degree murder trial, one that could send George Zimmerman to prison for life.

But in the court of public opinion, the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin has roused a national conversation about racial profiling, self-defense, gun control, vigilantism, civil rights and more.

A trial that speaks to something more than just the individuals involved is good for civic discourse, says Jason Johnson, a political science and communications professor at Hiram College in Ohio.

“That is a very good result of this case,” Johnson told Yahoo News. “Depending on your demographics and your experience, there are different parts of this case that pop out to you.”

Opening arguments in the high-profile trial, which will be streamed live on Yahoo, begin at 9 a.m. ET Monday.

Zimmerman was a volunteer crime watchman in his gated Sanford, Fla., community when he shot and killed Martin during a scuffle on a dark neighborhood sidewalk in February 2012.

Minutes before the shooting, Zimmerman phoned police to report Martin, 17, as a suspicious person and, against the advice of a 911 dispatcher, continued to follow him through the neighborhood. Martin, a Miami high school student, had been at a nearby convenience store and was walking back to a family friend’s house where was he visiting.

[PHOTOS: See pictures of key players and evidence in the case]

Zimmerman, who is of mixed heritage and self-identifies as Hispanic, says he shot Martin in self-defense. He maintains that the teen attacked him, pounded his head into the pavement and tried to get his holstered handgun. Martin died at the scene from a single gunshot to the chest. Sanford police didn’t initially arrest Zimmerman, who suffered a bloody nose and head lacerations in the fight.

While no one witnessed the confrontation, Martin had been on his cellphone with his girlfriend shortly before the scuffle. The woman, identified in court records as Witness No. 8, could provide key testimony for the state's argument that Zimmerman pursued Martin. A neighbor heard the pair fighting and was on the phone with 911 when the fatal shot was fired. Faint screaming is heard in the background of the call. Prosecutors say it was Martin. Zimmerman says it was him. On Friday, Judge Debra Nelson is expected to rule if audio experts will be allowed to testify.

View gallery

.

Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the parents of Trayvon Martin, listen as the charges against George Zimmerman …

Many viewed the early lack of charges against Zimmerman as unequal justice for a black victim. More than 2 million people signed an online Change.org petition demanding “Justice for Trayvon Martin,” and demonstrators protested in Sanford and elsewhere across the country. President Barack Obama drew criticism from some when he addressed the tragedy during a public briefing in the White House Rose Garden.

“All of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen,” Obama said 19 days before Zimmerman was eventually charged by a special prosecutor assigned to take over for local police.

“But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

Johnson, the professor, says the president’s remarks proved to be pivotal.

“That’s when we knew that this case was going to be about more than this particular kid getting killed,” Johnson says. “It was going to be about notions of violence, and respect, and profiling in America in general.”

These issues have nothing to do with Martin’s death, says Robert Zimmerman, George’s father. He recently released an e-book titled, “Florida v. Zimmerman: Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of My Son.”

“Every attempt was made to portray the events as a white, racist, neighborhood watch volunteer stalking, pursuing, and then murdering a little black boy simply getting candy for his little brother,” Robert Zimmerman writes in the book. “Absolutely none of this portrayal was at all accurate, and clearly known not to be true by individuals involved.”

[RELATED: A look at the jurors for George Zimmerman's trial]

Zimmerman, himself a former judge, contends prosecutors are on a “politically motivated witch hunt” fueled by “race-baiters” seeking fortune and fame.

“A wholly justified and necessary action by George turned into a national issue,” he writes. “What Americans have been told by the media for well over a year will finally be exposed and the truth presented. The egregious and self serving conduct of the Scheme Team, prosecutors, and others will hopefully be fully exposed.”

According to public documents, an FBI investigation didn't uncover any evidence that Martin’s death was motivated by race. However, Johnson said the case still has racial components that can’t be overlooked.

“Race is a lot more nuanced than we often report and discuss in public discourse,” he said. “This is one of those cases that’s going to demonstrate how nuanced it really is.”

While the country debates the role race played, Sanford continues to heal from the community unrest. For several months, many of the town’s clergy have been gathering with federal and local mediators to share their congregation’s concerns.

Next week they’ll play peacekeepers at the trial. Four seats in the courtroom are set aside for local ministers, while other pastors plan to mingle among spectators outside the courthouse.

View Comments (5054)

Recommended for You

  • Man sentenced to life with no parole walks free in Missouri

    JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A man sentenced to life in prison without parole on a marijuana-related charge was freed Tuesday from a Missouri prison after being behind bars for two decades — a period in which the nation's attitudes toward pot have steadily softened.

    Associated Press25 mins ago
  • U.S. court denies $2 million legal fees to conservatives in voting rights case

    By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday denied $2 million in legal fees sought from the federal government by conservative lawyers who persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 to strike down a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Court of…

    Reuters
  • Police officer shot after responding to wrong home

    ATLANTA (AP) — A police officer was shot and critically wounded Monday when he responded to a call of a suspicious person and showed up at the wrong house, authorities said.

    Associated Press
  • Woman Becoming Nun Needs Friend's Interest, Not Concern

    DEAR ABBY: I was best friends with "Joanne" after we met in middle school. She comes from a conservative Christian family and has three successful siblings. This has made her quirky, media-driven pursuits and city life a disappointment to her family. When we were teens and she learned that I was a…

    Dear Abby
  • Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announces she's pregnant with twins

    As with the birth of her son three years ago, Mayer writes that she plans to limit the amount of maternity leave she takes.

    CNET
  • Play

    Baby girl recovering from crash that killed her parents

    A baby girl survived a crash in Fresno County, Calif., that killed her parents.

    WPVI – Philadelphia
  • Iran clothing with US, British flags sparks arrests

    Iranian police have arrested merchants for selling clothing that featured the flags of the United States and Britain, two longtime foes of the Islamic republic, local media reported Tuesday. Garments imprinted with "Satanic symbols" were also seized from stores in Tehran, city police chief General…

    AFP
  • 2016 Best Colleges Preview: Top 10 Best Value Schools

    For the majority of prospective college students and their families, cost is a major factor in determining which schools are viable options. Knowing which schools are best buys -- which colleges provide the highest quality education for the lowest price -- is imperative.

    U.S.News & World Report
  • This year's El Nino weather pattern could be strongest on record: experts

    By Tom Miles GENEVA (Reuters) - The current El Nino weather phenomenon is expected peak between October and January and could turn into one of the strongest on record, experts from the World Meteorological Organization said at a news conference on Tuesday. Climate models and experts suggest surface…

    Reuters28 mins ago
  • #1 Reason Not To Buy A New Computer

    Find out the real reason behind slow computers!

    SuperTechConsultSponsored
  • Painkillers to Heroin: the Pros and Cons of Treatments for Opioid Addiction

    The U.S. currently faces an unprecedented epidemic of opioid addiction -- painkillers, heroin and other drugs made from the same base chemical. The current problem differs from the opioid addiction outbreaks of the past in that it is also prevalent in the middle and affluent classes. Virtually…

    U.S.News & World Report
  • Obama slams 'completely unacceptable' cop killing

    President Barack Obama vowed Monday to push for police officer safety after a Texas sheriff's deputy was gunned down from behind and shot multiple times at close range. Darren Goforth, 47, was killed late Friday in the Houston area, and local officials have blamed ramped-up rhetoric against police…

    AFP
  • Coerced sterilization of Canadian indigenous women in 70s widespread: researcher

    By Chris Arsenault TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The coercive sterilization of indigenous women in Canadian health centers during the 1970s was more widespread than previously believed, with impoverished communities in the north disproportionately targeted, a researcher has found. The…

    Reuters
  • Investigators: Arizona woman acknowledges drowning twin sons

    PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona woman told investigators that she drowned her 2-year-old twin sons and tried to kill her 3-year-old stepbrother in the same way because she didn't want them to live with the difficulties she faces.

    Associated Press
  • This versatile 15-in-1 Travel Jacket is Kickstarter’s most funded piece of clothing at $7.2M

    Remember the MacGyver Travel Jacket that has 15 compartments that each have their own designated functions? It turns out that so many people loved the idea of having such a “smart” jacket that the project became the most funded piece of clothing in Kickstarter history, topping $7.2 million in…

    BGR News
  • Play

    Woman was getting high on canned air at Kansas Walmart, police say

    Melissa Ann Wright is accused of huffing an industrial strength duster chemical while shopping at a Kansas area Walmart.

    KTRK – Houston
  • Daughter Deep In Debt Needs Counseling, Not More Money

    DEAR ABBY: Three years ago I gave my adult daughter, married with a child, more than $16,000 to help pay off her debts because she couldn't pay her bills. She and her husband maintain separate accounts, which I find odd. He pays certain expenses; she pays others. Now I find she's deep in debt again…

    Dear Abby
  • Why an Ohio Judge Is Using Unusual Punishments to Keep People Out of Jail

    From making a man wear a chicken suit to having a woman get sprayed in the face by what she thought was pepper spray, Judge Michael Cicconetti has become a viral sensation for his unique method of sentencing. Just last month, the municipal court judge got international attention for giving…

    ABC News44 mins ago
  • Got Diabetes? Why You Must Protect Your Feet

    From 2006 to 2010, more than 1 million patients went to the emergency department for diabetes-related foot complications, and 10.5 percent of those involved an amputation, according to a new study published in PLOS One. Despite the alarming rate of those who wind up in the hospital for this serious…

    U.S.News & World Report